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Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Courthouse security to improve

By Pat Royse
The Mercer County Sheriff's Department has hired former jail administrator Bud McFarlin to provide a visible law enforcement presence at the county courthouse.
McFarlin, who retired in June 2006 after 14 years in local law enforcement and more elsewhere, will begin his new assignment as a deputy permanently stationed in the Mercer County Courthouse building on July 2. McFarlin has been working part-time for the local DARE program since September.
Grey said courts have been under pressure to consider security measures for courthouses in the wake of several instances of violence and attacks on judges elsewhere in the nation.
Being a rural county, it is less likely to happen here than some other places, but "problems could happen anywhere," Grey said.
"A Darke County judge got attacked in the courthouse recently," he added.
Darke County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Michael McClurg wouldn't comment on the reported attack because the first pre-trial hearing on the alleged assault is scheduled for this morning and he thinks it is not appropriate for him to talk about it while the case is pending.
Grey said he feels security is necessary, but noted he wants to keep measures here low key.
"We don't want folks to be intimidated coming into the courthouse," he said, adding McFarlin's personality leads him to talk easily with people. "He won't be an intimidating presence. But if needed, he has the skill to diffuse a tense situation."
The courthouse has had some security cameras and other measures in place for the occasional high risk trial. But, cameras have their limitations, Grey said. The courthouse also has a metal detector, but it is rarely used.
In Auglaize County, a full-time security officer with that county's sheriff's office has manned the county courthouse for about eight years, according to Sheriff Al Solomon. The courthouse officer's first-floor desk includes a computer monitor that offers views from video cameras posted at various locations in and outside the building. A walk-through metal detector is available but used only in high-profile cases or in situations where problems are suspected.
Visitors to the Shelby County Courthouse must enter through a designated door, with all other doors locked, and proceed through a metal detector manned by a sheriff's deputy. The deputy, stationed at a nearby desk, also checks the contents of purses and briefcases. The security policy, established by Shelby County Sheriff Kevin O'Leary, has been in effect several years.
Grey said the placement of a deputy at the courthouse comes out of talks with judges, commissioners and those in the courthouse offices. He will talk with people in those offices and court officials again before McFarlin takes up his new duties to see if there is anything in particular that needs attending to, as far as security is concerned.
A desk for McFarlin's use will be set up on the ground floor, although Grey said McFarlin will be patrolling around the interior of the courthouse itself much of the time. He also will be in contact with dispatch through radio.
Grey had included a line item in his annual appropriation budget, submitted to Mercer County commissioners in December, to cover the uptick in courthouse security. While Grey has full control over how his budget money is spent, Ohio law says he must plan security measures for court buildings under direction from the county commission.
McFarlin will be paid by the hour for the estimated 36-38 hours the courthouse is open each week. Due to retirement restrictions, he will be paid $11 an hour, less than someone with his law enforcement experience would normally be paid, Grey said.
- Daily Standard reporters Margie Wuebker and Shelley Grieshop contributed to this story.
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